Yogi Adityanath's crackdown on abattoirs: Religionising of plates must be countered by constitutional checks
‘Firebrand’ Yogi Adityanath called for a crackdown on unlicensed abattoirs last month. The Allahabad High Court has held that the government of Uttar Pradesh cannot impose a complete prohibition on meat on a pretext of a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, and that it is accountable to its people for providing access to legal, healthy meat.
‘Firebrand’ Yogi Adityanath called for a crackdown on unlicensed abattoirs last month. The Allahabad High Court has held that the government of Uttar Pradesh cannot impose a complete prohibition on meat on a pretext of a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, and that it is accountable to its people for providing access to legal, healthy meat. The Lucknow Bench of the court found that such a crackdown has impinged the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
A division bench of Justices Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Sanjai Harkauli were examining a writ petition filed by the owner of a petty meat shop at Nagar Palika, Lakhimpur, Kehri for the renewal of his license amidst the State government’s crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses and meat shops. Saeed Ahmad, the petitioner, was a licensed meat-seller — he sold goat meat for a living, and his license was up for renewal in April 2017; Ahmad’s establishment was also closed down on the orders of the Uttar Pradesh government. Because of the present government’s actions on illegal meat shops, Ahmad has alleged that the authorities are taking a cavalier approach in the renewal of licences. Ahmad had prayed for a direction from the court that would allow him to renew his licence so that he could continue his livelihood, lawfully.
The Allahabad High Court’s order is progressive, and puts the secular culture of Uttar Pradesh at the centre, stating that food choices cannot be weighed morally as right or wrong. Justices Sahi and Harkauli note — “To provide an immediate check on unlawful activity should be simultaneous with facilitating the carrying of lawful activity, particularly that relating to food, food habits and vending thereof that is undisputedly connected with the right to life and livelihood. Food that is conducive to health cannot be treated as a wrong choice.” The State government argued that it was complying with an order of the Supreme Court in Laxmi Narain Modi vs Union of India (2003), and that its actions only targeted illegal slaughterhouses. At this, the High Court stated that inaction by the State government in the past “should not be a shield for imposing a state of almost prohibition [...] Compliance of law should not end in deprivation, the cause whereof may be attributable to the inaction of the State Government”. The Supreme Court order in Laxmi Narain and directions by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) were issued with regard to the status of abattoirs that were to be brought to standard practice with the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, as well as the provisions regarding mandatory registration and licensing under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
The NGT directives stated that some slaughterhouses were discharging untreated effluents contaminated with animal waste and remains into open drains that go into the tributaries of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, thereby, polluting them. It also stated that slaughterhouses that don't have permission from the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board or do not have environmental clearances from State Level Environmental Assessment Authority would not be allowed to operate.
The Bench carefully observed that the State government's action affected both the public as well as the private realm of the people in Uttar Pradesh. Food is a personal choice, the court iterated - “Thus, it is the private life of an individual that is also affected who may desire to have such foodstuffs as his private choice of consumption”. Additionally, the Bench observed that because there was no alternative facilities provided by authorities during the crackdown, the trade and profession may face an absolute prohibition, and this would result in the blatant violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (the freedom to practice any profession) and Article 21 (the right to life and liberty) of the Indian Constitution.
Can the action of the Uttar Pradesh government be considered a crackdown or would it be called a ban? A crackdown is the restriction on and the elimination of an illegal behaviour or activity, while a ban would be an arbitrary prohibition on a behaviour or activity. In this case, the State government has neglected its positive obligations to ensure access to legal, healthy meat, and the omission of such obligation to build and maintain establishments that facilitate such access, has allowed the illegal meat industry. The High Court identifies this as a complete prohibition and stated — “the question of setting up of a slaughterhouse, it’s running as well as the consequential impact thereof on the meat trade has now spiralled to this level that petty retailers like the petitioner who are seeking renewal of their existing licenses for retailing meat are stuck up and their licenses have not yet been considered or renewed.”
Moreover, is it an attempt by the new state government to ‘religionise the plates’ of its people? Being true to his Hindutva image, the newly elected chief minister is saffronising his way into people’s food — by sending a message to the Muslim community, first by shutting down slaughterhouses and robbing the community of their livelihood, and then, by taking meat off the menu. The government uses the implementation of the directives under the Laxmi Narain judgment as a pretext but it is not doubtful that the government’s actions are a communal attack. In the past, Yogi Adityanath has come out as anti-Muslim; at a rally, he has vehemently vowed - “If one Hindu girl marries a Muslim man, then we will take 100 Muslim girls in return. If they (Muslims) kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim men.” He has even praised US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The Bench has given the State government until 13 April, to consider the issues that is driving this action in a committee that would oversee the licensing procedures and the running of slaughterhouses and meat shops, when the case comes up next.
It cannot be denied that politics and indeed even religion is on our plates. In September, 2015, in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, a 50-year-old man, Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi was attacked and killed by a mob for alleged consumption of beef. In 2015, Maharashtra government banned the slaughter of cows for consumption. In January 2017, the Bombay High Court upheld the constitutionality of the ban after the enactment of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, which bans slaughter of bulls, bullocks. This judgment was vastly different from the present judgment by the Allahabad High Court that attempts to put an end to the communally-motivated actions of the State government.
The meat of the matter, at this point, is to understand how to invoke and utilise the constitutional checks and balances already in place to ensure that our plates, unlike the conscience of the Uttar Pradesh government, is free from hardline religious policies.
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